After a bizarre encounter at a party, a jazz saxophonist is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to prison, where he inexplicably morphs into a young mechanic and begins leading a new life.
‘Lost Highway‘, like many of David Lynch’s films, is a complete headfuck, an intense fever dream that doesn’t provide easy answers to the audience. It’s Lynch’s most surreal film since ‘Eraserhead’, and thankfully in this case, I found it a hell of a lot more enjoyable than his debut. The film focuses on two men: Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), a jazz musician being tormented by an unknown assailant at home, and Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), a young auto mechanic who finds himself involved with a group of gangsters. Their fates are intrinsically linked by the women in their lives, both played by Patricia Arquette, and her presence leads to danger for both men.
The film draws you in initially with the mysterious setup, where videos of the interior of the house and of Fred and Renee (Arquette) in bed together are left in packages on the doorstep. These videos become more sinister in nature, but on calling detectives in, they are informed there’s nothing they can do about it. At this point of the movie, the plot is delivered slowly but surely, introducing us to the setup and some key characters who will feature throughout the film, but it doesn’t really click into gear until Pete Dayton comes on the screen. At this point, the film becomes more surreal and more mysterious and it’s thrilling to watch it all unfold.
Interestingly enough, Pullman and Getty are never any better than serviceable in terms of their performances, but they are the blank canvas that grounds the film in some sense of reality whilst the crazy, weird stuff happens around them. It does help in that regard that the supporting cast are terrific, and in the lead female role, Patricia Arquette is terrific playing two versions of the traditional noir role of the ‘femme fatale’. In her performance, Arquette is stunningly beautiful, powerful and gives off the air of temptation that no man could resist, and she is the anchor in which all the other characters circle around. Robert Loggia is angry and dangerous as Mr. Eddy, and in his final screen performance, Robert Blake is utterly magnetic as the ‘Mystery Man’, infusing a sense of dread and impending doom whenever he appears on screen.
Lynch’s work with composer Angelo Badalamenti has been extremely fruitful and it is put to good effect here again to craft an imposing soundtrack. In addition to Badalamenti’s work, Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails and recent soundtrack collaborator with David Fincher fame) contributes a couple of excellent tracks, and perhaps more interestingly a couple of songs by the German metal band Rammstein are used at a key moment in the film. Trying to work out what was going on or what Lynch was trying to say can be a thankless task, and ‘Lost Highway’ is perhaps his trickiest yet to get a handle on, but I was left wondering about the questions it posed and what everything meant long after the credits had rolled. Does this make it a good film? Perhaps. I’d liken watching this film more to an experience than a traditional filmic structure, with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end, and I found it a terrific, thrilling experience.
‘Lost Highway’ is a nightmarish vision that doesn’t make it easy for the audience to follow, and whilst I had no idea what was going on for a lot of the running time, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, particularly in the latter half. It won’t be for everyone (what Lynch film is?!), but I enjoyed it immensely.
Only 3 films to go in our Lynch retrospective, which time permitting, I will complete just into 2015. The next film up is ‘The Straight Story’, which is an appropriate title for Lynch’s most straightforward film to date.
Directed By: David Lynch
Starring: Bill Pullman, Balthazar Getty, Patricia Arquette, Robert Loggia, Robert Blake, Gary Busey, Lucy Butler, Michael Massee, Richard Pryor, Jack Nance, Giovanni Ribisi and Henry Rollins